UH Moment

UH Moment: Do Animals Think Rationally?

“One of the things we found is that again and again, animals do way better than we thought they would have,”

UH assistant professor Cameron Buckner

It’s a classic scientific dispute. Can animals make rational decisions or do they simply react to their environment through mindless reflex? New research published by assistant professor of philosophy Cameron Buckner, found that a wide variety of animals – including elephants, chimpanzees, ravens, and lions – engage in rational decision making.

“We have accumulated enough evidence at this point that we can say animals really are rational in a significant sense,” Buckner said.

One example Buckner cites is matriarchal elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. They are able to determine the threat level of human intruders by differentiating ethnicity, gender and age. This suggests they understand that adult Maasai tribesmen kill elephants, while Kamba tribesmen and women and children from both tribes do not pose a threat.

“You can’t explain why the matriarch called for bunching unless you take what’s going on in her head into account,” Buckner said.

Buckner says his goal was to compile the empirical research,” to see that we’ve accumulated enough evidence to say that animals really are rational in a distinctive way.”

“One of the things we found is that again and again, animals do way better than we thought they would have,” Buckner said.

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